Faith of the King (October 27, 2019)
1 Kings 12:1-17
Faith of the King
Last week we were crowning the king of Israel; both King Saul and eventually King David. And this week we are at a point where we’re crowning David’s grandson, a man named Rehobalm. I want to briefly talk about what happened in between those two moments. How did we get here from where we were? The Kingship of David, and the Kingship of Solomon, are the most important Kings in all of Israelite history, at least according to Scripture. They certainly have the most amount of time given to them in Scripture. Almost all of both books of Samuel and the first 12 chapters of the Book of Kings are devoted to these two individuals and their story. So for at least as much as we need it for this story, let’s figure out what happened.
David begins as a good, righteous, honorable, and wise king. He has things go very well for him throughout the beginning of his tenure. He conquers around, he unifys the nation of Israel; things go pretty well. But after a period of time, he has a little bit of a hiccup with a woman named Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. You may remember that story. He winds up doing several sins, and breaking about half the Commandments during the midst of that story. At the end of it he is married to Bathsheba. Her first child dies in infancy, but the second child lives and becomes a man named Solomon. Solomon becomes David’s chosen heir. And David’s children fight amongst themselves. But at the end of David’s life, as he is dying, he crowns Solomon king at the same time that one of the other children is trying to crown himself king. Solomon ultimately wins out, and Solomon gains the kingdom.
Solomon begins as a wise king. He is most famous, of course, for the asking God to grant him the wisdom to rule the people. He is intimidated by the task ahead of him, which means he’s taking it seriously, which means he is serving the people as a leader. As a king, he is hoping to do well by them versus them doing well him. And things begin very well: he builds a lavish temple for God, he build a lavish palace for himself; things go really well. He begins to marry the royal families around him to create a defensive alliance structure, so that he can focus on building up his own kingdom and not have to worry about outside threats. And as a result of this he winds up with nearly 1000 wives and concubines that he is responsible for. And he has the wealth to do this. He brings in wealth and gifts from people who are attracted to his wisdom, and want to come in and seek his counsel. So he has the wealth to do that. But one of the things that scripturally happens is that his wives and concubines begin to lead him astray, particularly the daughter of Pharaoh.
What happens is that not only does he build the temple to God in Jerusalem, but he begins to build holy places where his wives can worship the gods that they came. He builds these all around Jerusalem as well. And then they begin asking him to go help them perform the rituals that they need to perform for their god; so he winds up going to these other holy places and begins worshipping those gods as well. And things to stop going well for him, and things stop going well for the kingdom. The people begin to go out and worship these other gods as well. And God takes notice.
Solomon begins to become like the royal families he’s married into. And he begins to oppress the people. He aquires great wealth, aquires large armies and chariots, and requires places to store them. So he taxes the people to build the places to store the army that he is taxing the people to feed. And he begins to become like the other kings; exactly like Samuel warned so many years before. And his children seem to be taking on this later part of Solomon’s leadership rather than the beginning of Solomon’s leadership. The people are loyal to Solomon primarily because David appointed him. That is not something that his son has the benefit of experiencing.
Solomon dies and we have the story that was read this morning. His son Rehoboam takes the throne as the oldest child of Solomon, and immediately he is encountered by a delegation led by a man named Jeroboam. Jeroboam, Scripturally, has already been told that God is going to rip the kingdom away from Solomon’s descendants and give it to him. But no one else in the story knows that yet. The delegation comes to Rehobalm because they are at the point of rebellion. They have been taxed and oppressed by Solomon so much they just cannot handle it any more. But they don’t have anything particularly against the royal family, they just want their burden reduced. So they come to Rehobalm and they demand that he reduce their yoke and they will serve him. View the kingdom as much at least as the king serving the people as you do the people serving the king. Restore what it was like at the beginning of Solomon, instead of the end.
He sends them away and speaks for three days with his counsel. The older advisers; these would’ve been the group of people who perhaps remembered Solomon’s early days, maybe even would include the prophet of God that would’ve been serving at the court of Solomon; they advised that he give in. Maybe they understood that he just doesn’t have the strength to fight this group of people that has come before him. Maybe they understand that being a servant as a leader is what you’re supposed to do. Like I said, if there is a prophet during this time, he would probably have been a part of this group, and that sounds like Godly advice. After all, that’s exactly what Jesus says: “in order to be great, you must be a servant of all…last shall be first, first shall be last.” This is what Jesus believes, and God therefore believes it as well. This is the way that leaders should behave. This is the way you have to be as a leader: you serve the people, and through that you gain their respect, you teach them spiritually. If you serve them, that will inspire them to serve others. This is the wisdom of the elders; the council of the wise.
Of course Rehobalm doesn’t view leadership that way. He views himself as better than everyone he speaking to, better than the advisers, better than the people who are coming up to him. He believes that they owe him simply because he’s king. That they owe him their lives. And no one is going to tell him what to do. And so instead of reducing the yoke, when they come back he says I’m going to add to it. I’m going to be worse than my father. Wisdom has clearly not been passed on from father to son. It’s worth remembering that wisdom is not genetic and must be intentionally taught to each new generation.
The people led by Jeroboam immediately rebel. They go home and they create their own kingdom, led by Jeroboam. And the kingdom of Israel is split. Judah and Benjamin, the two tribes immediately surrounding Jerusalem, follow Rehobalm. They remain loyal to the line of David. The other 10 tribes followed Jeroboam. They form the kingdom of Israel, the other followers of Rehobalm being Identified as the kingdom of Judah as Judah was the significantly larger tribe out of those two. Forevermore Israel is divided. To this day, the people of Israel are not called Israelites, they’re called Jews or the Jewish people. That word comes from that identifier of Judah. All people who identify as Jewish today come from these two tribes. The 10 northern tribes were conquered by the Assyrians and assimilated into Assyrian culture, and their identity is forgotten. They become “the 10 lost tribes.”
That’s just one of the impacts of this decision. Earlier in Scripture we understand that this division is initiated by God as a response to Solomon’s idolatry, and the building of holy places for his wives to worship. God recognizes the threat to his people that this is causing, and rips the kingdom away from Solomon in order to try and save the people. We’re told that God initiates this.
And yet the rivalry between these two countries causes Jeroboam to worry that if the people keep going to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, that they’ll eventually long for the United Kingdom and wind up rebelling against him in order to go back to the house of David. So he builds temples in Israel to God in the 10 northern tribes. He builds one of the far north, and one of the far south; and he says, “this is where you worship. You won’t worship in Judah, you’ll worship here in our lands.”
Scripturally, this is not what God wants, but I think it would ultimately have been workable for God. Except, within those temples he puts a golden calf and says, “Israel look, here is your God!” Which mirrors exactly the thing that got God so riled up that he was going to destroy the nation of Israel when they were at the base of Mount Sinai and Aaron did that same thing. That’s what is the division and the rivalry between the two countries causes. There’s a war that happens between the two countries. And that causes Jeroboam to lead the people of Israel astray.
Eventually the kingdom got ripped away from him as well. But they never really follow God after that point. And of course after they’re conquered, they lose their identity. Now, the Jewish people are conquered by the Babylonians later. And they do treat the conquered people differently than the Assyrians did, but one wonders if a little bit of why the Jewish people were able to keep their identity and the Israelites were not was because the Israelite’s god and worship at Israel’s temples didn’t look that different from the Assyrians.
I think it’s worth noting though that almost all of the end time scriptures, the stuff that begins to talk about what will happen at the end of days; that all of those Scriptures were written after the 10 northern tribes were lost, and they all talk about God restoring Israel. And when they talk about God restoring Israel, they almost exclusively go out of their way to mention that that is all 12 tribes of Israel. There’s a sense of restoring these 12 tribes to the kingdom that never is lost. To this day it is not lost among the people of Judah. They don’t hold such a grudge as to stop dreaming of reunification, even when it seems impossible to do short of an act of God. Even in the church, the book of Revelation talks about all 12 tribes: the 12 disciples to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel, a pearl and gate for each tribe. There is still this identity, even after all of this happens.
All of this is more of a history lesson about what happened, so what’s the point? What’s the moral of the story? What lesson do I want you to take from this? Well, I think the moral of the story is the damage we can do, and the dire consequences we could have, when we lose our way. Specifically, those of us who are leading other people, whether that is in terms of management where you’re leading other workers, and the way you leave can affect their lives spiritually and physically; or whether that is a spiritual leader: whether that is someone who is leading in volunteering here at the church, or that is just a parent leading a child or a grandparent leading a grandchild. Where you are with God has dire impact on where those who depend on you are with God. And as such I believe that we should periodically stop for a period of reflection, and meditation, and prayer just to ask God “where am I? How am I doing? Where can I improve?” And then listening in silence for God to answer that question. And seek to improve on the places where we can improve. We should do this for our sake, and for the sake of those who depend upon us. I think we need to periodically stop and take a moment to make sure we aren’t pulling a Solomon. So this week, that’s what I want you to do: take a moment to stop and pray, to ask God how you’re doing, and to work what God shows you. This week let’s do that. Amen.